Summary: A sermon for the 9th Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 13
9th Sunday after Pentecost [Pr.13] August 2, 2009 “Series B”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we acknowledge your generous hand in our lives, for everything we need comes from your bounty. But we especially thank you for the gift of your Son, Jesus the Christ, the bread of life who came to nourish us with your redeeming grace. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to the living bread which Jesus offers, that we might be strengthened in faith, and more fully embrace the new relationship with you that he offers. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
Last Sunday, we entered this sixth chapter of John’s Gospel by reading two events in the life of Jesus. The first event is the only miracle of Jesus that is recorded in all four Gospels – his feeding of the 5000 with a boy’s lunch of five small barley loaves and two fish. And when all had eaten their fill, the disciples were able to collect twelve baskets of leftovers. The crowd then wanted to seize Jesus to make him king.
The second event was the story of Jesus coming to his disciples, who had set sail to cross the Sea of Galilee, who were struggling against the waves in the midst of a storm. Jesus came to those frightened men, walking on the stormy water. Jesus tries to calm the disciples’ anxiety by calling out to them, “It is I, do not be afraid. And when they took him into the boat, they immediately reached their destination.
Well, following worship last Sunday, Pastor Blair confronted me with a question. He asked me if I noticed the grammatically incorrect phrase that Jesus used to address his frightened disciples? Jesus said, “It is I,” rather than “It is me.” “Yes,” I said. “I noticed that.”
Then Pastor Blair proceeded to tell me that John’s use of that incorrect phrase was intentional. It is a reference to when Moses was called by God from the burning bush to go to Egypt to lead the Israelites from their bondage to slavery. When confronted with the task of carrying out God’s plan, Moses asked God whom he should tell the people had sent him. God’s response was “I am who I am. Tell this to the people, ‘I am’ sent you to them.
Now, I don’t know whether I short-circuited a teaching moment between us, but I responded, “Yes, I know that.” To which Pastor Blair responded, “Well, I just want you to know that I know that too.” For the most part, I really enjoy Pastor Blair’s comments, and our fencing back and forth. In fact, I was struck by the opening comment by William H. Willimon in his commentary on our text.
Willimon said, “A couple of months after a young rabbi arrived in town, I went to the synagogue to welcome him to our community. During the course of conversation, I asked him, ‘Now that you are graduated from theological school and on your own, do you miss school? The young rabbi replied, ‘As a Jew, you’re never really ‘on your own.’ And I don’t really miss much about school, except when I’m reading scripture. As you probably know, it takes at least two Jews to read Torah – one to read, the other to help interpret.” End quote.
Well, on this particular issue, Pastor Blair and I are on the same page. And it is that statement of Jesus that actually forms the transition from those events that we read last week, to the discourse that we encounter this week. In the original language of John’s Gospel, Jesus calls out to his disciples who see him walking on the rough sea, “Ego eimi.” It is a phrase in Greek that can mean either “It is me,” or “I am who I am.”
Now we come to our lesson for this Sunday, where John tells us that many of the crowd whom Jesus had fed followed him across the Sea, in search for him. The implication may be that they still wanted to make him their king, to obligate Jesus to provide for them and protect them. Is that not indicated in the response of Jesus, when the crowd finally finds him and asks, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus said, “You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves…”
In other words, John tells us that Jesus perceived that the people were more focused on having their physical needs met, than on recognizing that in him, they could behold the presence of God and his redeeming grace. Instead of asking, “Who is this guy, who can multiply loaves of bread and walk on water,” they were more concerned about what Jesus was able to do to relieve their illness, of ease their hunger.